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Full-fibre broadband for all to cost £30bn

The government has released its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, setting the stage for the national roll-out of a full-fibre broadband network

Deploying a nationwide full-fibre, or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband network, by 2033 in line with the government’s ambitions will cost £30bn under a competitive model, Westminster has revealed.

The total sum is an estimate of total undiscounted deployment capital expenditure (capex), and excludes connection costs and lifetime operating expenses, according to the government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which has recently been published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

However, the landmark report said if things continue the way they are going right now, full-fibre networks will only ever reach three-quarters of the country, and will not get there until at least 2038.

In light of this, the FTIR sets out a number of proposed changes that DCMS believes are necessary to give the majority of the UK population access to 5G mobile networks, to connect 15 million premises to full-fibre broadband by 2025, and to hit the ultimate goal of national coverage in 15 years’ time.

“We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel,” said newly appointed DCMS secretary of state, Jeremy Wright.

“This radical new blueprint for the future of telecommunications in this country will increase competition and investment in full fibre broadband, create more commercial opportunities and make it easier and cheaper to roll out infrastructure for 5G.”

Consultations on some of the proposed recommendations are set to begin imminently, said DCMS, notably streamlining wayleaves and mandating fibre connections in new builds.

Moving forward, the recommendations will also form the basis of the government’s next Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) to Ofcom, which will set out strategic objectives and outcomes that the comms regulator must pay heed to during its day-to-day activities.

The 10 key recommendations made in the report are:

  1. To introduce legislation that will guarantee full-fibre broadband connections in all new-build developments.
  2. To introduce legislation that gives operators and network builders a “right to entry” to flats, business parks, offices and tenanted properties.
  3. To introduce reforms to the regulatory environment for full-fibre designed to improve investment levels, and competition, which are tailored to different conditions.
  4. To begin a publicly funded full-fibre roll-out for rural areas – akin to Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) – that will crucially begin simultaneously with commercial urban investment.
  5. To work with Ofcom to coordinate an industry-led switchover from copper to full-fibre.
  6. To introduce a standardised national framework designed to cut the costs, time and disruption caused by street-works.
  7. To do more to increase access to spectrum to support 5G.
  8. To do more to enable operators and network builders to access and run fibre through utility-owned infrastructure, such as water pipes and sewers.
  9. To work with Ofcom to reform regulation that allows truly unrestricted access to Openreach-owned ducts and poles.
  10. To publish a Digital Infrastructure Toolkit that will allow mobile networks to make greater and better use of public-sector owned buildings to boost coverage.

The publication of the FTIR was welcomed by broadband industry stakeholders, such as Ofcom CEO Sharon White, who said: “We … share its ambition for full-fibre and 5G networks to be rolled out right across the UK. The government and Ofcom are working together, and with industry, to help ensure people and businesses get the broadband and mobile they need for the 21st century.”

An official Openreach spokesperson added: “We want everybody in the UK to have fast, reliable access to the internet and we’re actively working on ways to increase adoption of our superfast and ultrafast services across the country. As more devices, appliances and services go online, we want every home and business to be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want online, all at the same time.

“We’re already building full fibre to around 10,000 homes and businesses every week, and by 2020 we’ll have reached 3 million. We have a huge, world-class engineering team, and wherever we build, we’ll deliver the best quality network with the highest levels of service and built-in competition and choice.”

“Today marks the day the government decided once and for all to leave copper behind and commit the UK to a full fibre future, making clear that a new generation of infrastructure builders is the vehicle for delivering its bold ambition for all homes and businesses to be connected to full fibre by 2033, not just Openreach,” said CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch.

“CityFibre is already building the networks that the UK’s economy needs to prosper and is ready to work with industry and government to make this a reality quickly.”

Read more about full-fibre broadband

  • CityFibre research commissioned to support its campaign for more clarity in broadband advertising appears to show widespread misunderstanding of what full-fibre is or what it means.
  • The Local Government Association has urged housing developers to adopt proposals for a full-fibre broadband kitemark for new-build homes in rural areas.
  • BT risks being consigned to the dustbin of failed tech companies if it messes up the transition to full-fibre broadband networks, says Ofcom CEO Sharon White.

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